‘Rock star’ Indian PM Modi received warmly in Surrey, despite protesters

SURREY — Thousands of singing, dancing, flag-waving people packed the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Surrey on Thursday afternoon to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PM Stephen Harper.

“We are very excited to be here!” Parul Gupta exclaimed, as her friends shouted, “Modi, Modi, Harper, Harper!” behind her.

It was a colourful, noisy love-in for Modi, the first Indian PM to make a bilateral visit to Canada since Indira Gandhi in 1973. Thursday marked the third day of Modi’s trip.

“It’s a historic moment and also we are hoping it’s the start of the India and Canada new relations,” said Rohit Garg.

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Stephen Harper and Prime Minister of India driving past us along 140th street in Surrey.

Posted by Michelle Iaconis on Friday, April 17, 2015

 

Harper introduced Modi, calling the developing relationship between Canada and India “the most natural thing in the world” and Modi “one of the world’s great leaders.”

Modi addressed the rapt crowd in Hindi, eliciting laughter and cheers during his speech.

One audience member, Prabhu Mishra, called Modi a charismatic leader and a selfless person.

“He doesn’t have any selfish motives other governments have in India. He’s a very, very development-oriented person. He has nothing to keep in his pocket, he’s just for the nation,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Harper and Modi visited the Gurdwara Khalsa Diwan in Vancouver, where the chants of about 100 protesters could be heard from behind barricades down the street, decrying human rights abuses said to be under his watch.

modi surrey protest
Protesters outside the Newton temple where Indian Prime Minister Modi was visiting during his bilateral visit to Canada. (Photo: JACOB ZINN)

In Surrey, roughly 250 protesters turned out a couple of blocks away from the Hindu temple. The protesters believe Modi initiated and condoned violence against Muslims during 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time. He was cleared of complicity in 2012 by a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

Protestors also called for a referendum to create an independent Sikh country, Khalistan, in the Punjab area of South Asia, in response to religious oppression faced in India.

"Even though the protest is not going to achieve Modi not coming, hopefully it will wake up (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper and see that people are not happy with this choice and he will not repeat that mistake of calling some other oppressor from some other part of the world into Canada," said Tajinder Kaur, one of the organizers of the protest.

"I never thought that Canada was a place that would put money or economic values over human values," she said. "As a Canadian citizen, I am disappointed and highly dismayed today."

modi surrey protest
Tajinder Kaur, one of the organizers of the protest in Surrey. (Photo: JACOB ZINN)

As attendees of the sold-out appearance let out, protestors yelled "Shame on you" while holding signs that read "Modi is a fascist extremist," "Release all our illegally detained Sikh political prisoners" and "No democracy in India."

One man was arrested for mischief and breach of the peace.

“We hope this historic visit will bring the communities together,” said Barj Dhahan, one of the people who organized Modi’s visit to the Sikh temple.

Dhahan called Modi charismatic, courageous and bold.

“It’s history-making,” said Dhahan. “We are just thrilled and excited to have them both here.”

Aditya Tawatia was one of the invited guests at the Vancouver temple and said he was very excited to greet Modi, even though he had seen him the day before in Toronto.

“This trip of Mr. Modi’s — he is an international leader, he is a rock star. It is such a significant thing that he is going to take the relationship between India and Canada to the next level,” he said.

Premier Christy Clark said the visit is significant and shows that B.C. is going to play a big part in building the relationship between Canada and India.

“We are in a position here to really build a partnership with what is going to be one of the biggest economies on the globe,” Clark told reporters.

After the appearance in Surrey, Modi and Harper attended a dinner at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver.

OUTCOMES OF THE VISIT

In a press release issued Thursday from Harper’s office, the visit was described at “highly productive.”

The leaders saw the completion of memoranda of understanding in a range of areas including civil aviation, rail regulation, education and skills development, and projects focused on maternal, newborn and child health, said the release.

Modi announced India would issue visas upon arrival, making it easier for Canadians to travel to India.

Several commercial agreements between Canadian and Indian companies were announced. With a combined value of over $1.6 billion, it’s said the agreements will benefit a range of sectors, including aerospace and defence, education, energy mining, infrastructure, sustainable technologies, as well as information and communications technology.

A commercial agreement involving Saskatchewan-based Cameco will see the company supply India with over seven million pounds of uranium over the next five years. This deal, according to the PMO’s office, was made possible due in part to the Canada-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement negotiated by the government.

Harper says the leaders made progress on negotiating a Bilateral Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

“With its expanding population and impressive economic growth, India represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian companies,” said Harper in a statement. “But we have only begun to scratch the surface of our true commercial potential. That is why Prime Minister Modi and I were pleased by the scope of our bilateral initiatives and commercial agreements that took place during his visit. These initiatives will help to further strengthen our relations.”

jensaltman@theprovince.com

twitter.com/jensaltman

– With files from Jacob Zinn and Amy Reid

Click here to read more stories from The Province.

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